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rj . References
1 Paul D. MacLean, A Triune Concept of the Brain and Behavior (New
,....., York: Rockfeller University Press, 1970).

2 A. Montagu, Growing Young (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), p. 130.

T. R. Blakeslee, The Right Brain (London: Macmillan, 1980), p. 96.

M. Montessori, II Segreto dell'Infanzia p. 267.

A. Montagu, Growing Young (New York: MacGraw Hill, 1981), p. 188.

6 M. Montessori, La Mente del Bambino (Milano: Garzanti, 1953), p. 152.

'Sir John Eccles and Daniel N. Robinson, The Wonder of Being

~ Human (Boston and London: New Science Library, 1985), p. 108.
'l :
W. Penfield "Conditioning the Uncommitted Cortex for Language
Learning," Brain, vol. LXXXVIII, pp. 787-798.

9 W. Penfield op. cit.

' '


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reading and writing can pass without receiving attention. Instead possible steps to favor the harmonious and integrated develop-
of forging ahead, children are held back, even though it may be in ment of children, beginning right from the start of life.
a pleasant enough way, by giving them many things to do, but not As human history progresses we become more aware of our
the tasks that are absolutely essential for the developmental problems. Each time this happens, further appropriate solutions
phase that they are passing through. emerge. These solutions are the fruits of the great creative
There is such a thing as a hidden physical hunger brought capacities inherent in the immense potential of our minds. ·~

about by a lack in the infant's diet of certain components such as At the beginning of this century, the infant's psychological
vitamins, mineral salts or the right amount of protein. A child who needs were discovered and a new form of education was
experiences hidden hunger doesn't starve in the sense of not launched. Yet the scientific Montessori education has as yet .....;
feeling hungry but his body, his biological ego, suffers from a not reached all children. This book has attympted to urge
qualitative lack of certain substances that are absolutely essen- adult educationalists to take a close look at their relationship
tial for optimal growth. We cannot see anything from the outside, with children, who expect our help and guidance in order for·
and the child appears to be healthy but certain important func- them to be able to realize their human potential.
tions do not develop, or develop slowly and badly. This is analo-
In 1949, three years before her death, Maria Montessori
gous to the children who are ready for the next stage of mental
addressed the VIII International Montessori Congress, held
development but who are held back below the level of their real
capacity. They are occupied by tasks that only seem to be educa- in San Remo, Italy, which was dedicated to the formation of
the human being as a part of the global restructuring. She
tional while their real need is to enter into the human culture by
being able to read and write. stressed once again that, "Early infancy is the most delicate
period in human life" and that only a scientific education '--'
That this is indeed the normal path of development is amply could give help and protection to the immense mental ener-
demonstrated by experience gained over 80 years in "Children's gies of children, so that they could be used for personal wel-
Houses" throughout the world. Young children show the greatest fare and to achieve universal brotherhood. This is why she
interest and pleasure in mastering these tools under the loving maintained that, "The task of educators is immense because
and intelligent guidance of an adult who knows how to make human progress and world peace are in their hands."
scientifically prepared materials come alive.
Many years of direct experience with children have con-
vinced me profoundly that prenatal life and the period from
birth. to the age of three years establish the basis for the
human personality. The period from three to six years is also
of the greatest importance because it is one during which
whatever happened in the preceding years can be continued,
reinforced, and also corrected if necessary. The years from the
ages of three to six are the last chance to "normalize" children
who have not received the correct assistance, and are there-
fore precious years in human development. ~

We are still waiting for educational and scholastic curricula

that fully take into account the real requirements ofthe develop-
ing human being in order to offer all that is really needed. Without ~·

denying that real progress has been made in the last few

. 164. -165 .

Maria Montessori envisioned a future in which the elemen-

r Chapter 12 tary school program would be completed years earlier, once the
potential ofthe human being was helped to develop completely.
If we compare what a three-year-old child could be, and what
CHILDREN'S EDUCATION AND he usually is, we can see how much the integrated development of
human beings is obstructed and deviated.
THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY There are many pathological symptoms and "defects" (de-
pendence, laziness) at the source of whims which are merely
signs of the struggle against incomprehensibility of the envi-
ronment. These testify to the loss of important human quali-

Conclusions ties that the child had.

c It is terrible to consider how severely this human being's
When given good assistance in the first years oflife the child . future has been already compromised!
at three is an impressive human being. He is able to express Three-year-old children ·'must enter an environment larger
himself perfectly, he can deal with all the practical needs of life than that of the family. The environment must be richer not only
(drElssing and washing himself, etc.), he can collaborate usefully because of the presence of other human beings, both adults and
in the activities of the environment, he has developed a logical these of their age group, with whom to live and establish valid
pattemofthoughtthatpromptshim to ask the whys and wherefores relationships, but one that has been designed specially to give
of everything, and he has a clear awareness ofhis ego in all senses. their minds appropriate opportunities. Such an environment is
The three-year-old child is also able to obey spontaneously and the "Children's House", Maria Montessori's 15.rst educational
naturally if the adult really knows how to give the guidance the environment for children, in which she made her astonishing
child needs to achieve his self-realization. · discoveries about the intellectual and moral abilities of children.
The picture before us is that of a child who, although still These abilities until that time, had never had an environment in
considered to be very young, at three years, is a cheerful and which to show themselves.
tireless worker who is satisfied only by the continual exercise of Maria Montessori maintained that it was the children who
~ his abilities, whose mind has no limits when it comes to absorbing revealed their secrets but we know that nothing would have been
everything in the environment. discovered without such a prepared environment.
This child is ready to continue his advance, and all of culture The task of educatingthree-year-olds, a most important sector
is awaiting him\ but first he has to learn to read, since this will ofhumanity, has to be entrusted to teachers who must be the best-
enable him to make the final qualitative leap. Naturally this is a trained teachers in the school. They take in children who are full
skill that has to be taught in a completely different way than that of curiosity and enthusiasm, and they have to find the right kind
adopted in typical primary schools. Acquiring the skill is neces- of help in order to advance in their personal development. These
sary and urgent because the child can become autonomous in his teachers have to know the children well, their needs and appropri-
education and can benefit from all the information around him ate educational techniques.
that is in written form. Between the age of three and six, children consolidate their

Freedom of movement helped in the physical and psychologi- previous abilities and acquire the essential tools for ·culture:
cal development of the child and gave him confidence to act in the reading and writing. It is puzzling to hear all the polemics about
environment. Now he needs to have the freedom to move in a who is supposed to guide children towards th.,se 'milestones. We
symbolic way, that is to be able to acquire knowledge presented in must respond to the child's needs at the right moment but we
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not imply doing what they want but, starting from the real is yet another aspect of the respect and consideration we owe
situation (we. only have biscuits or bread and honey so it is children. Thinking that they are young and forget things easily is
impossible to ask for anything else) we offer a choice. If the child a serious underestimation of their abilities. When it is really
wants something that we do not' have, but could buy, we can impossible to live up to our promises, we have to apologize and
simply say that we don't have it right now, "But when we go to the propose an alternative. Children are generous and do not expect
market together, remind me and I will buy it." This approach, perfection from us, but rather an honest relationship in which we
combining respect, consideration and collaboration, is the only have to demonstrate our willingness to collaborate.
valid response to the crisis of opposition which would be better Education is difficult, because in a teaching situation we are
termed the "crisis of the recognition of the ego". It is a moment of faced with our true egos, and are obliged to ask ourselves if we
passage to a higher level of development, and this should make really believe everything we say and if we have faith in the large
parents happy, considering that the child is continuing to grow potential of every human being. We have to dedide to change in
both in age, wisdom and personal maturity. order to offer the children who live with us the possibility of
At three years of age, a child is an extraordinary human being growing up in an atmosphere that offers aid to life.
with whom it is possible to establish a relationship of increasing Every family and community provides education for all its
equality. The road to other important mental conquests such as members, but adults have the power to change the environment
learning to read and the acquisition of other cultural abilities, can and should use it to favor everyone's development. Contrary to ~ '
be started. While participating and sharing in practicallife helps what happens to the body, which reaches a certain level of
in perfecting the child's motor skills and in reassuring his ego that development and then stops, the mind can continue its growth up
he is recognized, his immense mental energies can be used to to the last moment of life. With appropriate human mediation c_j
continue to learn, instead of being burnt up in an endless struggle everything is possible. Crisis periods are favorable for change, not
against an environment that has not understood the real meaning only in children but in all who participate in them. The results are
of his opposition. There is a battle going on for a type of relation- assessed in terms of the new physical and psychological abilities
ship within the family in which we can select a democratic system, needed for continuing to grow and are measured as an increase not
trusting the children capable of making choices. only in years, but in the quality oflife.
It is also very dangerous for the future of the human beings to
Jet children pereeive that life is always a conflict and that, if you
want to assert yourself, you always have to oppose other people.
It is our responsibility to children, and, therefore, the future of
humamty, to pmvide them with a model for relationships with
other people that involves respect for the individual and that
allows everyone who lives together to express an opinion and take
decisions. All this begins very early, at birth itself By the age of
three, the model for the human being that is developing within the
child is complete. The child wants freedom and respect, and we
should create family and social groupings in which these values ~

are real and operationaL

The period of opposition is also one in which children begin to
better understand time and to establish some relationship with w
the past and the future. It is, therefore, essential to be very careful

- 161 -
- 160-

i'' J

In this period, what really counts is helping the child to verifY
in a very different way than adults expect. The change generally the importance of his presence in the family. As soon as he feels
happens suddenly and can surprise many parents who almost reassured about this he will stop saying "No" and will continue to
cease to recognize their own child. In reality, what the child is no work peacefully along with us. Real collaboration only comes from
longer accepting is our style of addressing him by continually those who do not feel overpowered and can contribute freely. Only
stressing that he is small and has to do what he has been ordered
when we are free is it possible to make choices.
to do. At this stage, his ego wants to be taken into account and
consulted when there is a decision to be made that concerns him. We have to learn a completely different manner of addressing
r These decisions are simple. They are always related to daily life children even before the period of opposition arises. This can
- to eating, getting dressed and so on - but behind each of these develop only if we overcome prejudice toward children because
they are small. In reality, and it is useful to repeat, it is only their
actions lies his relationship with the environment.
bodies that are small, not their minds or ability to do things. Their
·. If, from the very start, we were able to see the capability of the abilities are not in fact utilized by the environment. We \eave
i child, tried to perform the right activities for life together with him these extraordinary human beings in a situation of absolute
and increased our collaboration with him, then the crisis of dependence that does not correspond with either the motor or
opposition may very well never arise. The child constantly re- verbal abilities of this age. There are countless opportunities in
ceives the reassurance required by his ego without having to fight every day life to take children into serious consideration, giving
for. this recognition. If, for example, we have to go out with the them a chance to understand what is happening, reflect on it and
child and put on an overcoat, we should turn to the child with love make a choice. That is exercising a decision-making power which
and respect and invite him to come out with us, to take his all human beings want and feel as indispensable to their
l' overcoat, (which should be hanging in a wardrobe accessible to
status as free persons.
him), and put it on. This is clearly better than just taking the
"Would you like some biscuits or would you prefer bread
garment, and without even explaining what we are intending to
do, going up, grabbing him, and trying to dress him while an- and honey?"
' nouncing that he has to go out. Around the age of three this form "Should we cook some potatoes or carrots?"
,...., of behavior begins to arouse opposition. A power struggle starts, "Which tablecloth should we use: the green one or the
which the adult can appear to win by using verbal or physical
violence to end the protest; however, the child loses a precious white one?"
opportunity to feel he has grown and has been recognized as a "Shall we go to the zoo or to the puppet show?"

person who is able to make decisions and who lives in an environ- It should be clear that we are not risking anything by offering,
ment that takes his opinion in to account. The real message for the whenever it is possible, two alternatives, while the child gains
child's ego is, "You are important here and the things that we do very much, because we demonstrate that we consider him able to
~. require your approval. You count and you can participate in this choose, and respect his judgement. This is the best food for his ego
environment". If adults succeeded in understanding that behind and for making it even stronger, in the right sense ofthe word. The
the child's "No" is the desire to be recognized as a person who is aim is to produce a person who is respected and who, therefore,
already able to resolve many problems related to him, they might respects others and the environment and shares in responsibili-
be able to ask for his opinion much more often than is generally ties. There is no difference in the psychological mechanism that
done. At this point, I should stress that we are not suggesting that decides between "biscuits" and "bread and honey" and, much
it should be left to children to decide what to do. The idea is simply later, between solar or nuclear energy. These are decisions that
to avoid giving only orders and to leave a choice between just two can only be taken well if the person called upon to take them has
alternatives when it is possible. We can say "Do you want to put learned to consider the consequences of the decision.
on an overcoat or a raincoat?"- and be ready to accept that the child In our Infant Community, we make particu'lar efforts to ask for
will go out wearing whatever garment he chooses, even though we
t.hP chilnrP.n'R oninionR and decisions on everything possible, so
' would have preferred the other one.
with others, one needs to be comfortable within oneself. The VVIsnom cons!stsorunaerstanmng LnaL LHlti lULera~t.Iuuwr """ ...c'
pleasure of social life should be equal to that of coming home to child, is a transitory period aimed at the acquisition of a greater
one's own house: you go and return and the two situations are degree of autonomy. As soon as they start to walk- that is, two or
equally important and mutually enriching. But, in order to go out three months later - they can begin to work side bY' side with us. ·~
with pleasure, one has to be secure in one's ego, ·and this security A new form of attachment to the environment is achieved by
is acquired at the time of weaning, when the child is completely means of such collaboration.
aware of his borders and feels that he can control them.
It may seem incredible that acquisitions that are so major and
Another frequently made error is that of wanting to keep the
infant attached to you longer than necessary, either at the breast -
important for the future of a human being can occur within the (which is no longer needed) or by making yourself indispensable ''
short span of nine months, and that they can be triggered by such as a support person to whom the child clings because he was not !

simple things as ways of giving food and the provision of a limited given the time to experience the pleasure of_moving his body
freedom of movement. Nevertheless, we constantly find that life freely. Since there is an ideal time for every cha:\:,ge we should be
pe1forms admirable deeds with modest means. We should never careful not to keep the child in a state of dependence that no longer
forget that a giant tree grows from a tiny seed and a little water, corresponds to his real abilities. If we do, personal progress will be
earth and sun. This life-force is a constant source of wonder when obstructed and months will pass without the child developing
we see it at work in the development of all living beings- and, in psychological structures appropriate to his age.
a special way, of human beings. We have to be ready to maintain contact with the child, but the ~

Opening our eyes to these wonders makes it possible to give form in which this is manifested should change. Only when this
the right kind of help to children in the first stages of their happens are we really helping in his development.
existence. During the time of weaning we have to be ready to w
promote experiences of separation that can happen naturally
through feeding and movement. After leaving a parent or adult,
children of this age frequently return to them again, maybe for a The Crisis of Opposition
cuddle so as to have a closer contact, but not for long. As soon as
they have been reassured, they want to set off again on their The third developmental crisis occurs at 30 to 36 months of age
explorations in response to a strong internal urge for movement. and concludes the first basic period in the construction of the
I This pattern has to be accepted, and you have to be ready to personality. It is called the crisis of opposition, but this term is
interrupt your activities so as to give an immediate.response to the incorrect because it gives a negative connotation to a period that
request, since young children do not have a concept of time. is actually positive. The crisis demonstrates that the child has
Saying, "Wait five minutes and then I will hug you", is taken another big step forward in the path towards independence
tantamount to refusing the approach, because the need for contact and humanization.
is specific to that moment and cannot, at this stage, be satisfied by Around three years of age, children are able to speak very
a promise. Even if you are intending to spend more time with the well and to refer to themselves with the pronoun "I". They are
child later, this does not compensate for the refusal at the time of able to move about perfectly, and even run, and have reached
need. Instead you should stop what you are doing, respond to the an accurate awareness of their world. They now have the
child and soon it will be the child who will ask to go away. This
distinguishing characteristics of human beings and are per-
interaction may seem very bothersome, and it may seem as
fectly aware of their level of maturity. Now they are waiting
though you have become the child's slave, but that is not the case.
and asking to be recognized as adult.
Rather it represents the need ofthe developmental moment which
requires the continual verification of attachment and separation, The crisis starts when children begin to say "no" to almost
until the child is finally able to deal correctly wlth both situations. everything we propose to them, demonstrating that they can react

-156. . 157 .
I; '


.1 is characterized by visible fear- and even crying - and by seeking

out the mother for reassurance. It should not be interpreted in a
developed enough to have a very clear awarene8s of the borders
between himself and the world and wants to have sufficient
negative way - as being a result of the fear of others that all control over them to be sure that they will be reE:pected. It might
.- children have at this age - but should be taken as a positive sign be better to call this period "the crisis of the clear awareness of self
of the better self-consciousness that the child has attained as a and the world". We should also pay more attention to just how
result ofthe clear differentiation of himself from his mother and much children at this age are able to understand about things that
the surrounding environment. In practice, children exhibit this happen around them: the meaning of adult actions, the passage of
fear only when an unknown adult comes too close and even picks time (typically, they will watch the front door at around the time
them up or hugs them. What adult would accept such treatment that their parents or siblings usually come home), and language.
from a stranger? Every living being needs to feel secure in his This crisis too is nothing other than a time of passage to a more
habitat. This is the minimum personal security space where advanced state of development and, therefore, a very significant
unauthorized presence is felt to be, and is, a violent intrusion into physical and psychological moment for a human being.


our lives. If you want to enter someone else's house, you have to
knock at their door and wait for it to be opened voluntarily,
otherwise the visit becomes a violation!
Just as we were happy when the newborn proved capable of
breathing unaided, now we· should be pleased that the child can
live without the maternal breast and is able to. move away (but
· In our many years of experience, we have never seen children only a few feet!) from the mother. Accepting this modest separa-
of this age show fear of a strang~r if the adult has the good sense tion implies accepting the road that human bE•ings must travel
to keep his distance, and say little. The child must be given the down in order to become increasingly themselves and to achieve
chance to observe him, usually with the keenest attention, and to the self-awareness of being a unique and special individual in a
- decide on a course of behavior. If the adult is accepted, the child
will smile, at which point the adult can approach a little closer. In
society of equals. Our help is still indispensable, but it needs to be
adapted to the new requirements of life. Children of this age are
any case, the adult should never try to touch the child before he tested to see that they have prepared everything needed for their
has made the first movement himself, and has clearly shown that second births: the ability to digest adult food, motor ability to
" he wants to enter into contact with the other person. move freely in space, self-knowledge that enables a clear differen-
Is this procedure so strange? At nine months of age, children tiation between self and environment, which permits them to stay
are individuals with well-defined egos. They do not tolerate being in with others without becoming confused.
treated as objects that can be picked up and put down without any This crisis, too, is a major, positive moment in personal
regard for their basic need to control their personal space: the evolution. We need to change the food in order to change the
space occupied by their bodies. Children love relating to, and relationship, and have to provide freedom o:f movement, in a
making contadt with others, but, at this age, have to give their limited but secure space, so that the children may experiment
approval for a relationship. They feel that no one can come close with being able to do things by themselves.
to them, let alone touch them, without having been given their This autonomous work helps in the construction of a positive
· explicit permission. Their reaction of fear and crying is fully self-image that will be retained for the rest ofli£e. The mother, and
i; explained by the terrible but common sensation of being at the every other adult who helps the child, is not only offering food as

- mercy of people stronger than they are, who take advantage ofthis
situation to impose their presence too directly.
a material for building the body, but also a material for construct-
ing the psychological characteristics of the peJ:sonality.
The reaction of fear is not caused by a lack of sociability, At the end of the external pregnancy, the child should have
because children are always interested in relationships and knowl- developed a basic trust in the environment and i'n himself. This
edge, and every person represents something new, but is only the
f' • , 1 1 , • m1 1 ·1 1 1 1 1 I results in a differentiation of his own person sufficient to permit
1.' .. J .• ________l ___ :J..l_ : ___ ___ .J __ .f!_.L __ T _____ ..l ___ J__ .1!--1 ____ .f!_ __.L_\..1-
standing of being differentiated from it and having it before period, which is rapid, although all too otten th1s 1s not recogmzeu. c..!
his eyes as an "object" to observe and know. Consequently infants often are forced to remain and live at a level
It is very interesting to see the link between this crisis and below their physical abilities which produces all kinds of implicit
food, and this is what we shall examine now. negative effects on their psychological status above all. ..._.;
Weaning, which marks the end of a requirement for the special We have termed the first nine months out of the uterus as
food of maternal milk, is completed at about eight or nine months "external' pregnancy" and now, just as at the end of the first
of age. At this point, infants can eat practically everything that pregnancy, we have to help infants during this second birth for ~·

adults can, and they can also do it by themselves, taking food from which, once again, they have prepared all the necessary tools. The
a plate, putting it into their mouths and chewing it. This is done maternal breast, which had substituted for the umbilical cord at
in a manner that closely resembles our own, demonstrating that the first birth, now becomes useless and needs to be replaced by

the period of sucking, as a way of ingesting food, has gone forever the infant's hands and by a different use of the mquth, which now
and with it the need to be physically attached to the person when has teeth with which to chew food. Insisting oh retaining the
eating the food. attachment to the breast when there are obvious signs of biologi-
At this age, eight to nine months, infants can move about very cal maturity is going against the wisdom of development, which -~

well on all fours, which finally gives them an independence of propels the human being to increasingly larger goals.
motion that is extremely important, since i~ does no.t <\\quire ,_ny There is a law of development that is constantly in effect: all
help from an adult, and allows the infant-to .':distance himself' that is necessary and indispensable up to a particular point later
physically from the mother. Of course, the distance covered is not becomes outdated. To continue is not only useless but can actually
very great, but it does have an immense significance, representing be harmful to development. Life does not go backwards, and needs i
"going away" voluntarily. The infant is experimenting, at the to be accompanied by intelligent assistance in its progress to- '~I

same time, with the power of returning whenever desired to the wards bigger and better things. Infants who no longer attach to
mother, who is a target for personal love and well being. The new the breast and who are able to move around freely on all fours in
digestive and motor abilities contribute decisively to enabling space reserved for them, do not break off their relationship with
infants to detach themselves in a positive way, so that they can their mother. This seems to be the fear of those promoting breast-
continue to develop. This is a moment of great change, which feeding for a period of years. In fact the relationship is twns-
adults should understand. formed into a different way of being together, which requires less
Perhaps what is really difficult to understand is the rapid direct contact and more contact through tele-receptors - that is,
development that takes place in the first few months oflife. From sense organs like sight and hearing, which pick up information at
a totally dependent newborn full of needs, to a child of nine months a distance. The mother and child act in the same environment, but
who is already able to share our food and to control space. The body each carries on happily at their own occupations, and then come
is still small, but the brain, which has always been large, acquires together with greater joy in a face-to-face relationship during
more functions every day; functions that need to be used. maternal care and in moments of intimacy when they hug each
other for the sole pleasure of direct contact.
This is where the environment has to take on the full share
of responsibility. After all, what is the point of having. teeth, The dynamic ofbeing "alone and together" continues, leaving
and knowing how to chew and digest complex-foods, if you increasing space for personal activities, since the child has ma-
keep receiving food in a bottle? And what's the point of being tured and should be able to use his new abilities in order to c..!

able to move around in space if you are trapped in a play pen continue the individual development.
or other containers? At the age of eight or nine months, children show also a
Only adults who are well prepared can give the right form of characteristic reaction against unknown persons who come into cJ.
assistance to help infants to make use of a rich developmental their environment. This behavior, termed the "stranger anxiety"
-152- - 153- cJ


,--, new things aimed at the enrichment of whoever acts in the effort mouth, which inhales air and attaches to the breast. This is the
l needed to enter the new environment.
It is equally important to understand that the infant is not left
beginning of the oral stage of development, so called because the
mouth is the border between the inside and outside of the child
and becomes the privileged point of contact for receiving oxygen
r: alone in this transition and in the adaptation that follows. Nature and food. These are essential for physical life but the mouth also
I places special aid·at his disposal. Aid that is mainly related to the
mother who is charged with continuing to help the newborn, albeit
receives sensory information needed for understanding the world
and having a mental life. This is a different way of relating to the
in different ways that are appropriate to the new situation. The
r warmth of her body and the production of the only food specially
environment. There could be no development 'mthout this basic
relationship which continues after birth and needs our assistance.
adapted for the infant, are the first solutions to the many problems We should help newborns to use their new abilities by recognizing,
that can transform a traumatic birth into a positive crisis. There first and foremost, just how important is the evolutionary crisis
!---: are factors at play here that are both inherent in the child and the
environment. Even though, during pregnancy, the digestive tract that they are passing through, We should not look at newborns as
is entirely formed, after birth, owing to difficulties in coordinated small, helpless human beings. They are persons who are small in
movement, the infant needs to be helped to reach the breast. The size, but with an immense mental capacity, and even with many
r mother and the child have to reunite in order for life to go on. physical abilities. All this can be witnessed only when the environ-
Although the independence achieved at birth is incomplete, it is ment assists in the expression of life and becomes what Maria
an important start that ought to be appreciated. The environment Montessori calls "an unveiling environment".
should only offer help by leaving some space to the newborn to be We certainly need love in order to help life, but in order to
active and to demonstrate what he can already do, while support- provide a quality ofhelp that truly responds to the great potential
ing and helping him in tasks that he cannot as yet, but is trying of a human being passing through the developmental crisis of
to accomplish. The environment thus takes on the role performed birth, we need much love combined with a good knowledge of the
l ~
by the uterus in prenatal life. It provides a special place to grow child. In the symbiotic period which follows, everything depends
until the time comes when another place, offering greater possi- on the adequate preparation of the mother and adults present
bilities, becomes necessary. during this passage, since they must give all that is really required
The developmental crisis of birth is still not understood in at the right time. We have already spoken about symbiotic life and
its entirety. Newborns still do not receive all the physical and the great acquisitions that can be made in this short period of two
psychological help they need to pass· the test for which they months: a feeling ofbasic trust that the environment will respond
have been preparing themselves extremely thoroughly! What to needs, and the psychosomatic unity of the child. These allow the
would happen to a student who has studied hard but finds infant to pass from biological birth to ontological birth, defining a
himself faced with an examiner who doesn't let him talk and person that now has the tools to go ahead. This person is ready to
asks him qu~stions about topics that were not in the course? face the other developmental crises, the tests set by life, each of
The poor student would become desperate, and the frustrating them a precious opportunity for personal growth.
condition of being unable to respond would make it impossible
for him to use his careful preparation.
This is what happens to many newborns who are not allowed The Crisis ofWeaninl'
to demonstrate their full range of abilities and express their desire
to relate to their environment. We often make it difficult for
infants to display their knowledge actively and underestimate the The second important developmental crisis is that of wean-
skills they already have. One has to be able to recognize that the ing, which underlines a physical change associated with the
infant's pattern oflife is the same, but that it has to be expressed ability to eat and digest foods other than milk. _It also includes
in a different way in order to continue to develop. a psychological change in the human being consisting of a
The attachment to the environment, which originally was in higher degree of awareness of himself and of the external
Chapter II development. Not only does t1me pass, tne cmer aavance Is ~~m~
the range of possibilities increases and the human being becomes

constantly wealthier and able to participate more fully in life.

It is important that all parents and adults know about the
THE DEVELOPMENTAL CRISES developmental crises in order to realize how the infants life is
constantly changing and how necessary it is to recognize the
I special moments of development. The transition between phases
can be facilitated by an environment capable of offering help

appropriate to the changing needs. . )

The Crisis of Birth
In our growth processes, there are special moments called ~-

developmental crises, in which a major transition between two

Birth is the first big test of"maturity", during which the work
stages of life occur. The human being must have prepared the
equipment necessary to effect this change, which permits him to done during pregnancy is assessed. In order to stay alive, after
continue advancing along the path ofpersonal development. The being detached from the mother's body with the cutting of the
various phases of development require the acquisition of differ- umbilical cord, the newborn must demonstrate that several or-
ent abilities. This should not be a simple chronological progress, gans function well. For a start, he has to be able to take on the
but one that implies the presence of different physical and respiratory function and, soon thereafter, be able to eat and digest l..J
psychological abilities. food. He will have to have prepared a good stock of antibodies to
be able to resist the attacks of the new environment, as well as iron
The word ''crisis" may be ambiguous, since in everyday speech
to cover for the lack of this mineral in milk. Furthermore, it should c.J
it is generally used for problems. "Having a crisis" has the
negative connotation of passing through a period that is full of be noted that the newborn not only has to take on new functions,
but that they have to be executed in an environment that is . !
difficulties that one doesn't know how to resolve and that are a
severe trial for the person facing them. But this is not the original completely different from his former one. None of the components ~

meaning of this Greek word which means "judgement", so that of prenatal life have accompanied him: the lukewarm amniotic
fluid, the umbilical cord, the placenta. All this is left behind, and ,'1
"being in a crisis" implies being in a situation in which one is
submitted to a test. In developmental crises, what is tested is the the infant only brings himself into the environment. Such a
degree of preparation needed to progress along the path ofhuman- radical change is only repeated at death, to which you bring even
ization. It is rather like taking an exam. Although it is a special less, since you leave behind your very is useful to think of ;

moment, it does not cause too many problems if you are well all this, because we should not lose the possibility of seeing all the '

prepared and if the surrounding environment is favorable. positive aspects of the large change underway at the time of birth
In the long process of development, a human being goes of each human being. Birth represents an affirmation of indepen- .'
through many times of "crisis", many moments of transition dence from a world that had become too small for growth to '
between one stage of development and another. These passages continue. It also demonstrates the necessity and possibility of
are obligatory, and we cannot side-step them. If everything went facing up to something new in order to acquire an environment . i
according to plan during the preceding phase, the person will pass conducive to one's own growth. It is a positive urge towards a
qualitatively and quantitatively better life. This requires discard- ..J
the "test" without difficulty and without trauma and subse-
quently find himself at a more advanced phase of personal ing an outgrown past in order to move towards a present full of
- 148- - 149-


r life. The same can occur with many other languages if they are perform this miracle very easily if we decide to use the results of I
spoken in the child's environment. scientific lmowledge to bring educational practice up to date.
The child's brain is ready for all this work at birth (and even Maria Montessori was a pioneer in this area, and clearly
before). The teaching technique is scientifically valid. It can be stated that only by making use of the natural development of
called the "mother's method", which involves speaking directly, children - the sensitive periods -is it possible to educate them
and singing and interacting with the child in daily life. up to the level of their human potential. cPhis potential is
n enormous as regards the learning of languages. We have to
Our experience suggests that with the children below the age
of three it is absolutely essential that each different language is admit, however, that we rarely make any great effort to give
always spoken by the same person. If a mother, father, or our children favorable conditions for the accumulation of such
grandmother speaks two or more languages perfectly, they great wealth. Our cerebral cortex is like a gia:at wardrobe with
should decide which one to use with the child and always speak only one garment hanging in it. A garment that, very often, is
that one. Language is an integral part of a person, like all the not even of particularly good quality!
r somatic characteristics, and cannot be changed without produc- Quoting again Penfield, the great researcher of the human
ing a sense of great insecurity in the child and consequent brain and the mechanisms of language, "Teachers and parents
di_fficulty in communication. must always share responsibility for the education of each new
,-- In the light of this scientific information, we realize that often generation. This includes the conditioning of each child's brain.
the best years oflife for learning languages go by without provid- How and when it is conditioned prepares the human being for
ing enough food for the language center. The foreign-language great achievement or limits him to mediocrity. A neurophysiolo-
teacher should be placed in primary school, as Penfield has gist can only suggest that the human brain is capable of far more
repeated at various meetings. Later the language-learning mecha- than is demanded of it today. Adjust the time and the manner of
nisms lose their extraordinary absorptive and selective capaci- teaching to the aptitudes ofthe growing, changing master-organ.
ties. In order to produce good results, education should become Then, double your demands and your reasonable expectations." 9
scientific and follow and utilize the special natural qualities that During preparation courses for parents we talked on this
are present in developing beings. interesting topic and came to the conclusion that an immediate
In learning languages, one should distinguish between the solution might be to bring together a group of children below the
acquisition of the model of a language (pronunciation, form of age of three several times a week, with a person who would talk
speech), and the enrichment of vocabulary. While the former can to them in a foreign language. In this way, the financial burden on
occur perfectly only in the first years oflife, the latter can continue the individual would be reduced, and the child1ren would arrive at
throughout li~, using the basic model. primary school with the knowledge of at least a second language.
Persons are rarely able to speak many languages perfectly, This would be an interim solution, until the educational system
simply because it is very difficult to give children the possibil- takes into serious consideration the enormous waste of human
potential in the first years of life and alternative educational
r ity to absorb them in the first years of life. However, it is
strategies are adopted in developed countries.
important to realize that the knowledge of many languages
can be common to everyone. We strongly hope that this time will come soon. A better
understanding between human beings based on a knowledge of
r The modern world has become very small, and relations
more languages would certainly promote good relationships be-
between people have become much closer. Consequently it has
become a priority to be able to communicate and to be understood. tween different countries and contribute much to peace on earth.
It is absolutely essential that everyone speaks several languages
-just as, at the beginning of this century, it became necessary to
~u1;:; 1eap m tne aeve10pment ot human
1;:::; 1·eauy a qua1uaL1ve 90% of the population. There is also a small proport10n ot people -·'
intelligence. In spoken language, followed later by written lan- who have their language center in the right hemisphere or in
guage, children have at their disposal an instrument able to both hemispheres. The genetic program is active from birth, as
receive and produce an ever-increasing store of knowledge. is demonstrated by the fact that newborns turn their heads to ~

We have seen that children, in their first few months of the right 88% of the time and to the left only 9% of the time. In
life, discover their ability to produce sounds with their speech addition, they show a greater electrical activity in the left
organs, which should, therefore, be free to be exercised. How- cerebral hemisphere when there is sound stimulation based on ~_j

ever, all too often and for much too long, the mouth is occupied language and in the right cerebral hemisphere when the stimu-
with a pacifier, with very negative consequences. Continued lation is based on music or other non-verbal sounds.
sucking leads children to use these organs only for taking in In infancy the language center can migrate to the other ·~
food. It is much more important that they are made aware of hemisphere if this becomes necessary, due to pfl.thology, but this
other uses, in particular, that it is possible to produce sounds repair mechanism is no longer functional in adhlthood.
for communicating with others. This is a passage from using The functional aptitude, or sensitive period, of the human
the mouth for the personal pleasure of sucking to the social ·-
brain follows an internal biological clock which should be
pleasure of exchanging information with the surroundings. taken into account if we want to help children use their enor-
This is also a development from the pleasure derived from an mous potential in this area. There is one solution to the ~
object (the dummy), to the pleasure linked to human interac- problem. The second (or third, or fourth ... ) language must be
tion. Although children want to relate to and communicate used in the child's environment in the first years of life, in the
with the human beings around them, we induce them to seek sense that one or more persons should speak the other lan-
false forms of gratification that limit communication, instead guages to the child and in his presence.
of promoting it.
If we could have two, three, four or five different persons
speaking different languages around the children, they could
easily absorb all of them without any particular effort, pro- ~·

Learning Several Languages vided that each person speaks to them always and only in
their language. There are no learning difficulties, beeause
children have minds that work in a very special way and have '~
An important problem for beings these days is to a switch mechanism that lets them go from one language to
gain a good knowledge of one or more languages in addition to another without confusion, without needing to translate and
the mother tongue. Parents and educators are deeply inter- without the accent of their mother tongue. But this is possible '.__..
ested in bilingualism or trilingualism in children. However, in only in the first years of life, "during the years in which the
order to reach this goal, it is of crucial importance to know child is a genius in learning languages." 8
when to start teaching foreign languages. To resolve this The sooner you begin, the better. In Japan, a course was '--"
question, we can look for guidance from research done on the recently developed, consisting of playing English-language
physiology of the brain. cassettes three times a day to infants from birth to the age of
The center specialized for language is located in the left six months. When, at the ages of 3, 4 or 5 years, these children '---'
cerebral hemisphere in right-handed people and in the right come in contact with an English teacher, they will learn the
cerebral hemisphere in left-handed people. This separation of foreign language much more easily than other children. This
!eft-right functions is called "lateralization". The genetic pro- phenomenon has a physiological explanation. The language
gram for lateral differentiation of the brain is present from center has absorbed the characteristics of pronunciation and
birth. The language center is in the left cerebral hemisphere in style of the English language during the first few months of

- 144 ~
·145. ·-i

words while touching different parts ofthe body: at bath times and Why do we have to show them cartoon animals that live and
other moments of maternal care naming objects used while behave like human beings? Why should we fill their heads with
preparing and serving food, or while dressing and undressing the the notion that these animals dress like us, sleep in beds and sit
-, child. It is important to say the name alone, and not give any on a sofa to drink a cup of coffee? There is nothing more extraor-
further explanations. If you are showing a spoon, repeat the word dinary and interesting than our daily life, but we devalue this
"spoon" two or three times. This helps the child to put order into reality and prefer to reinvent it in our own way. In this way, we not
his life and to understand quickly that everyone and everything only confuse the children but distort their ability to observe and
in the environment has a name. In addition, children should be discover the wonders oflife.
"exposed" to adult language and conversation. Ifit is rich and well Books should serve to clarify and verify everything that has
developed, the children will pick it up at the same high level. been learned, adding further information and preparing children
In talking to children, adults should always speak clearly, for future experiences by presenting it in a realistic way. Fantasy
l ' paying attention to the expressions used, because children can can come later, after reality has been experienced and absorbed
understand much more than they can express. Whenever they and the children become able to distinguish between what they
start to struggle to express something, one should never laugh or see externally and what they can think internally. In the first
'. poke fun at their feeble or incomprehensible attempts. Children three years oflife, children have a strong internal urge to acquire
need to have faith in their own ability to communicate so as to language skills, just as they have for movement, and they want to
r. encourage them to continue. be taken seriously.
' '
''· It is equally important to avoid imitating their errors of The third basic requirement, the desire to communicate, is the
speech, imagining that they will understand you better, because emotional side oflanguage. In order to want to share your feelings
they have the word they want to use correctly pronounced in and experiences with others, you need to have a good relationship
their minds, but the voice box may not have developed suffi- with them. At any age, when we are depressed or angry, we tend
ciently for them to articulate it. The best help that the adult can to reduce our conversation and even stop talking altogether. The
~ give is to repeat the word so as to reassure the child that his refusal to communicate is the first strategy of our private wars!
I effort has been understood and, at the same time, to provide The paucity or lack of conversation is a declaration of detachment
another model of the correctly pronounced word to make it from persons and the environment, while we make the most
easier to say next time. Basically, the idea is to accept the results incredible attempts when we have a real desire to communicate
r-· of the efforts with respect instead oflaughing at mistakes. The and participate, even in an unfamiliar language.
difference in our attitude will produce a notable difference in the Sometimes children who have absorbed language, are ca-
quality oflanguage acquisition, children who speak clearly and pable of reproducing it perfectly, can not make use of it be-
correctly at the age oftwo, instead of children who still speak in cause of emotional problems. The extreme case of this is the
an "infantile" way at four or five. autistic child who does not speak because of a conscious deci-
Books can be a big help if they are well chosen. We should sion to separate himself from the environment. A good emo-
check if they present reality, since at this age children are trying tional atmosphere is an essential requirement for the optimal
to make sense of the environment and the life around them and development and use oflanguage.
consequently they need to see this reality represented in a serious The first two years oflife are called the period of senso-motor
r; way. They believe everything we tell them and we have to be intelligence, because during this period children use their senses
honest and not fill their minds with false ideas that later have to and movement to get to know themselves and the world. But when
be corrected. The reality is that of people, family and the environ- they learn to give a name to each different piece-of information
' ment in which they live, which they experience directly. Starting they receive, they can make the transition from the concrete to the
f..-r.,.... th;co 1-..-,<:"'" f.l..,r.,~ "~'r-.'""'v.rl i-1-..-.~ .... l ........ ,...Hyl.--...:J,...." - '\....--<--·~ .....+ T ,....,....,..,..~"'""' hanc:!fnrm...: ! reR litv into svmbols.
p!_t:;:; Lu Lnetn un utrg·e caras \ZU em oy
~u em). They concen-
l:)etore answerm.g tms q_uesc1on, we \llUJUlU cmn1~ Hmc ...}
trate on this learning process with incredible joy and seek out this there are three basic requirements for learning to use one's
task as their first activity as soon as they arrive in the Infant
Community. It is of crucial importance to train the adults who are \ mother tongue well:
with the children in this period. If they understand that there is i 1. The ability to hear well. '....J

a "sensitive period for naming things" and respond to the hunger 2. A functioning vocal apparatus, that is a mouth and larynx
that are well developed anatomically and with functioning nerves.

for words in an appropriate way, they can give their children a
richness and precision of language that will last a lifetime, and 3. The desire to communicate with the environment. ~

which represents a relevant, qualitative difference in their com- Regarding the first of these requirements, it is necessary to
. prehension of reality. Children need to develop in order to become check the hearing of infants soon after birth, because, first of all,
increasingly human. Knowing words appropriate to a situation language has to be absorbed. Any hearing defect will disturb or

that they have experienced and want to communicate gives them impede the absorption of sounds, which theil cannot be repro-
a great deal of internal security and allows for the right control of duced by the child. This is why deafness always used to imply
the environment. muteness as well. Nowadays this tragedy can easily be avoided, as
This is the moment which Maria Montessori calls "the lan- long as one discovers the problem soon. It should be a normal
guage explosion''. By the end of their second year, children use practice in every family (and Infant Community) to check the
about 200 words pronounced more or less clearly. Since they are hearing of newborns, because even a partial loss of hearing can ~·

not yet able to use the pronoun "I", they talk about themselves in have a large impact on retarding the development oflanguage. A
the third person. simple check can be made by clapping hands, ringing a bell or
calling the child's name from behind. If there is any doubt, the
In the delocutory phase (20-36 months) children learn the parents (or Assistants to Infancy) should inform the pediatrician, ~

different parts of speech. Phrases become longer and more com- who will arrange to send the child to a specialist for further, more
plex. Children demonstrate, through their use and comprehen- sophisticated testing. .'
sion of language, an impressive level of understanding for the '
We have just noted again that language is first absorbed and ~

external world and of themselves. They are able to describe what

then reproduced. The first kind of!inguistic assistance that can be
takes place around them, their personal emotions and judge
given to the child is to speak clearly and correctly. We have to talk
various situations correctly or to oppose them by saying "no". to children from the very start, slowly and not too loudly, describ-
When the word "I" appears in their vocabularies, at about 32- ing the actions we are performing with them during maternal care ----
36 months, a very important stage has been reached in the and at any other suitable opportunity. The tone nsed in speech.
development of the personal identity. This is a moment of enor- should be serious, just as when we are speaking to someone who
mous growth as a human; the birth of a "person", with all the understands what we are saying, so as to convey the importance
characteristics of a human being. This person now has a clear we assign to them and to communicating with them. Naturally
understanding of his place and role in the environment, and by one can also use the special language of love, which involves
using the word "I" asserts his own identity and asks to be different tones and ways of using words but, just as in adult life, w
recognized for the unique and unrepeatable human being that he the two models should always be present simultaneously, since
is. It is a milestone along the road of the· child's development that children need to learn both.
deserves to be celebrated solemnly, as should becoming able to As soon as children begin to reproduce sounds in our presence, ~

raise himself and walk on two legs. Getting up on two legs is the we should respond to them, so as to establish the concept that
child expressing a physical identity. This is now complemented by language is a message and form of communication with others.
the psychological identity expt·essed by the use of the word "I".
What can be done to help in linguistic development?
Children need to learn words and also to hear them in the
context of real life. Every day, there are many opportunities to say

- 140-
-141· ~·

,...., r

direct relationship with plenty of opportunities to look into family, food, and words of greeting. These words are called
each other's eyes and communicate.
"holophrases" because each of them is used to express a complete
At around three to four months of age, anew form of expression situation, and so they function like entire phrases.
emerges in which vowels are reproduced very clearly and are The meaning of the word-phrase can only be understood by
.! ) almost sung out with a clear, spontaneous enjoyment. If those in those who live with the child and who are capable of recognizing
the environment show an interest in this vocal activity and the gestures, tone and context associated with this special form of
,- respond to it, the infant will start a dialogue that is full ofjoy and communication. All other adults would need an interpreter, such
is rewarding for the participants. as the mother, who can "translate" and explain everything that is
At five to six months of age, the sounds of certain consonants contained in the single word. At the age of one year, children are
become distinctly apparent, such as "m", "n" and "d", which are able to use three or four holophrases.
linked to the vowels that have already been used. By repeating 2. The Linguistic Period
these sounds, words like "mama", "papa" or "dada" are fonned.
The linguistic period, which takes place between 12 arid 36
~ Naturally the infant soon discovers that saying "mama" elicits a
months, may be divided into two phases:
big reaction from the mother and is encouraged to repeat sounds
that produce such a response. The child discovers many possibili- a. The locutory phase (12-20 months)
ties· of the vocal organs and continues to exercise them with great b. The delocutory phase (20-36 months)
pleasure. During this period, when infants wake up, they start to In the locutory phase, children use either the same word for
speak right away. They can be heard carrying out vocal exercises, many different situations or different words for the same situa-
with great interest and concentration: In this way they discover tion, when they want to focus on some aspect ofwhat is happening.
and confirm their delight in producing sounds and responding to There is a continuous growth in the number of words and
them as in communication with the mother. consonants used, but some of them, such as ur·", 8 or Z seem to11 11 11 11

This is precisely what occurs when an adult wakes up unhur- be more difficult to reproduce. Most children manage to pro-
riedly and begins to talk to himself, even if it is not out loud. nounce them correctly only later on.
Just as in the case of movement, the discovery of all the things Phrases now begin to consist of two words, such as "mummy
that the body can do produces a great deal of pleasure. With here", and this is called a "nuclear phrase", in which the first word
language, infants begin to feel that they have precious instru- is the subject and the second describes the whole situation to
ments at their disposal located in the mouth and larynx. which the children wish to draw our attention. The next step is the
In consideri:qg the development oflariguage, we should distin- "expanded nuclear phrase", consisting ofthrece words.
guish between the capacity to emit sounds and words, and the It is a very important step when children begin to speak of
ability to understand their meaning, because these do not always situations or persons not located in the immediate environment,
go together, although the latter generally precedes the former. and when they start to respond with words to requests when
At seven to eight months of age, children are capable of previously they responded with a motor activity. A real dialogue
responding in an appropriate way to various suggestions made by can start at this stage. Children show a nJal love for nouns,
the adults with whom they live; such as, "Clap your hands", "Say especially the difficult ones, and their vocabularies are enriched
with new words every day. Nobel Prize winner Sir John Eccles
hello" or "Let's have your hand (or foot)" when they are being
dressed. In this period they also clearly understand the word "No". writes: "The child has a real hunger for words, asks about the
names of things and practices them without pause even when he
-. If the environment is stimulating and helpful, the infant will
continue to progress and around the age of 12 months, becomes
ab]e to RRV hiRfirot wnrtlo 'T'hnoa nrill ~nln<n <n •l.n- n- L-- -En .
is alone." 7 In our experience, we have seen children between 14
and 24 months of age learning the rare and :>pecial names of 15
'. ' M . . . :.1 - - - - - - - - -L'.t. ________ ... -J.-\
cauuever ue unaerstooa II we cton t realize that It does not consist 1. The J:'re-nngmstrc renoa
of a mechanical ability or "repetition" of words. Rather the word Let us consider the first 10-12 months, which constitute the
is sustained by thought while, at the same time, thought is first stage in the development of language. In this stage all the
sustained and !ffilplified by the use of language we share with work children perform is hidden within them, and very little can ~

others. This is a system of reciprocal aid and reinforcement, and be observed externally. We need to be aware of this silent process,
it enlarges human consciousness, making it possible to grasp an · if we want to facilitate it. If we want to change our ideas about
ever-broader reality. children, we have to observe them carefully. ~

Equally important is inner language, the inner dialogue which As a result of the memories accumulated during the prenatal
helps us to focus our thoughts, examine them, ask ourselves period, newborns are able to recognize the mother's voice from the
questions and answer them in order to clarifY our ideas. All the first moments of external life and turn towards her when she , '

sensory information coming from within and outside ourselves speaks. We also know thatinfants quickly show~igns of particular
cannot be turned into thoughts without being processed by brain interest in the human voice. They have alread~ entered into the
mechanisms capable of transforming a continuous stream of data sensitive period oflanguage and they find the human voice to be
into organized material that can be understood, stored and com- the preferred environmental sound. In the first few weeks oflife,
municated. Inner language requires attention and concentration we can stop an infant crying by coming close and speaking in a
and we have to learn to speak to ourselves in order to be able to calm, sweet and mild way. The human voice is able to communi-
truly communicate with others. cate our feelings and is capable of calming and reassuring infants.
Unfortunately, it is possible to separate spoken language from When people are talking within their hearing range, newborns
thought, and we can express in words things that do not cor-re- show a clear electro-encephalografic response in the hemisphere
genetically programmed for having the language center. :._;
spond to our thoughts. This causes internal suffering and repre-
sents a threat to our individual identity. Even young children can We should also recognize that the newborn's cry is differ-
learn to separate language from thought, when they realize that ent in different situations and varies among infants. There is
what occurs in their minds is not accepted by the environment a great deal of variety in the quality and quantity of an
and, therefore, cannot be shared verbally. At this point, an inf•;mt's cries. It is very important to realize this, because, if
internal disassociation occurs, in which words are no longer we become alert to this form of communication, we can dis-
sustained by thoughts and no longer serve to manifest them, but cover a real and appropriate language. The sounds and rhythms
only to cloak them. represent a fairly comprehensible way of expressing sensa-
tions and desires. Furthermore, infants (provided that their (-I

clothing and containers permit them to) accompany their cries '........)
with many movements using various parts of their bodies to
The Stages of Language Development add force and clarity to their vocal expression.
A very interesting aspect of infants' cries in the first two
Even though there are differences of opinion regarding the '----
months oflife is the different breathing intervals they use. These
origin and significance of the development of language, all changes in pattern can teach us much about what the infants are
researchers agree that there are two main stages in the acqui- trying to communicate to the environment.
sition oflanguage: After the first two months of life, the infant acquires the ---
1. The pre-linguistic period, lasting from birth (or even before) ability to modulate his voice. This is a result of a different .'
to 10-12 months. operational mode of the larynx after the myelinization of its
2. The linguistic period, which covers the ages from 12 to different nerves is complete. This is a type of language used ~

36 months. mainly with the mother during maternal care, when there is

- 136-
Chapter 10 The sounds produced by our voice-box are narrow in range but
they are able to create infinite combinations, and there seems to
be no limits to the production of new sounds. Even children can
' construct a personal language that only they can use. When we
THE DEVELOPMENT OF consider the logical consequences of spoken language- that is, the
logical transformation of sounds into signs, we can appreciate the
LANGUAGE different manner in which human communitiles are able to make
this transformation. From the past and to the present day, we can
see the extraordinary human creativity implicit in seeking and
r finding ways to communicate and preserve• communication in
The Mystery of Spoken Language order to transcend the barriers of time and space.
Even though many languages are extinct, we can still read
In considering all the abilities of the human being, the devel- texts written in them. In this way, we can communicate with
opment oflanguage is certainly astonishing. This supreme tool of human beings of our own. past and learn about many aspects
communicating w:ith ourselves and other human beings and of of their lives: how they expressed their emotions, how they
sliaring w:ith them all the details of internal and external reality organized their family Jives and the affairs of the state, their
'· is truly extraordinary. Language is important for individual and ways of responding to various situations, and so on. Their
social development. Just as it is used by the individual, it is also efforts are preserved. We can also look to our past for the roots
used within society in a continual exchange which enriches both of our present, and thereby, acquire a better comprehension of
the language and all who use it. life in general and personally.
Each spoken language has a large capacity for change, which Language raises so many interesting problems that many
may go unnoticed, although this change is happening continu- researchers have completely devoted themsE>lves to studying this
i ously. Every day, new nouns, verbs, adjectives and special phrases subject. In recent decades, many theories have been presented
are created to express and participate in new emotions, new about language. It is beyond the scope of this book to address them
events of history and new levels of consciousness for all those who all in detail but we shall examine a few current conclusions. The
use the language. main debate that is currently taking place iln the scientific com-
The development of coordinated movement passes through munity clearly shows the profound interest in researching this
various stages. All children in the world pass through these extraordinary and mysterious human manifestation.
" stages, even though, in various human communities, particular Generally we can say that humans have mechanisms for
motor skills may develop as an adaptation response to different acquiring language which are established in the mind long
conditions of life: all children crawl, walk on all fours and then before they actually learn to speak. A perfect knowledge of
r stand on two legs. But when one considers language, the situation universal grammar is already programmed in the brains of
is different and although the learning time may be the same, the infants. But then, every individual uses language in his own
languages learned are all different! way, which indicates that every human being can produce
There are so many languages spoken throughout the world. As phrases that have never been used before. In this way partici-
we look back through history, we always find the same situation, pating in the creativity oflanguage and of fhe joy and unique-
there are very many ways to use the same potential for language. ness of his personal communication.
When did it start? Who was the first to use it? How did the Language is a treasure accumulated by every human commu-
many languages become diffused from one human group to an- nity. It is given to all those belonging to the community in order
,1 OTo • "' ·~~ ---
., ,.,.. n .. J.J..l-- ---~.1--~~~ . . +"1.-. .................. ,....,...
m uv"r-~1z"u garments, wun Jong sleeves that completely cover ln every country ana m every season,'" 1~ )JU~~tUit: •u l''u""""
the hands, thus concealing an important reference point of their children from the climate while giving them the freedom to move
about: warm trousers, elastic but short, leaving the knees free
bodies. addition to all this, in many maternity hospitals, infants
useful for slithering and crawling; warm but soft socks in which ·.._.;
are tightly wrapped in a blanket, just like the practice, considered
normal for many centuries, of wrapping small children in swad- the feet can move easily (especially the toes, which are important
dling clothes that did not permit the slightest movement. This is in pressing against the floor and pushing forward); light but warm
clearly a regression from prenatal conditions. fabrics that cling well but do not have the rigidity of many ~

fashionable garments (especially jeans) that are completely inap-

Indeed, in the uterus, the fetus was always able to move propriate for young children.
parts of the body. How strange that, after birth, instead of ' :,
If we have succeeded in explaining the importance of move- ' '
finding more space, the child finds himself trapped in restrictive ~

ment, it will be obvious that appropriate clothing can do much to

clothing and coverings.
help a child to reach the level of motor coordination and personal ' :
Newborns try to fight against these restrictions with their independence required for the development of a happy and well-
movement and start to cry, but they rarely get the right re- integrated human being.
sponse to their protests. The usual response is a pacifier to
distract their attention from necessary movement to a useless,
and even harmful, variety of sucking. This is a classic example ~·

of how useful life forces, which are geared to growth, can, from
the first day oflife, be deviated into destructive experiences that I'
have the immediate effect of separating the child from the
overall mind-body activity connected with free movement. One
long-term effect of this can be a continuing search for oral
satisfaction. This will always be important in life, but it does not
substitute for the other forms of gratification that, as a result,
cannot be obtained from the environment. .. ~

Many newborns soon get tired of the effort required to ob-

tain freedom of movement. They retreat internally and use
sleep as the only possible escape from the uncomfortable situa-
tion of having a body that cannot respond to the intense desire
for activity. Others protest much longer and succeed in attract-
ing the attention of the mother, or of some other interested
adults. They are picked up and moved - this movement is
completely different from free and joyful activity. These chil-
dren also learn that they have to ask someone when they want
to move, and that movement is only possible through the agency
of someone who cares for them. The precious experience; "I can
do it myself' is lost and dependence on the adult is reinforced.
As months go by, the clothing given to the children contin-
ues to be inappropriate, because it covers too much of the .._;
body, is too large and long and continues to restrict move-
ment. It always takes a major effort in order to overcome the
obstacles of the environment.
-133. ~


I this movement has to be carried out with too much force, they can
: damage and destroy things. The interior urge is the same, but the
out the real task of preparing the table for the moment of the
communal meal. At every moment of this activity, the result is
muscular work is not controlled and the result is a personal and visible to the worker and it is the activity ib;elf that repays the
social disaster because the environment will respond in a violent effort and that induces the child to continue- with mounting joy.
and repressive way, reinforcing the pattern, since the child will It is obvious that this pattern of work takes much time, and it is
respond with even stronger movements. precisely on this point that adults and children do not agree .
. ~

Repressed children wage ari endless battle against their envi- Adults struggle to have more time and try to deal rapidly with
ronment. In this battle, everyone is unhappy and everyone loses. repetitive activities in practical life while ehildren experience
The adults never discover the joy of participating in the develop- satisfaction in performing them, since they re•cognize them as real
,-, ment of a human being and of living in peace with an affectionate opportunities for development and personal improvement.
collaborator, and the children lose the possibility of constructing If we could bear in mind the discoveries of Maria Montessori
their personal security and feeling of personal worth. Without during her attentive observations of children in a prepared envi-
these characteristics the child's self-image and behavior cannot be ronment and how different are the aims of their work, we would
" positive. The children can only act in a way that corresponds to surely permit children to help and collaborate with us. This may
their personal image and to the expectations of the adults who are imply allowing different schedules for activities: if we want to eat
important in their lives. This is the familiar phenomenon of the at seven, we have to begin to set the table at six. But that is surely
self-fulfilling prophecy, and is a real tragedy! no problem, considering that a major preoccupation of parents
c Children have a need for free movement from birth on. and adults is to keep the children quiet and away from danger!
They also need to have their activity accepted and assisted, With practical tasks, we can keep children happily occupied
depending on their age, so that the movement can become of while their movements improve in coordination, their egos de-
value to themselves and to others. When the physical and velop and are reinforced and the personal security and self-esteem
psychological importance of movement in the life of the child continue to be enhanced. These important messages are absorbed
is not understood, the child finds the environment hostile. The in the developing human being and will serve to sustain him
obstacles raised are responsible for deviation from the normal throughout all future activities:
'· course of development. Myelinization and coordination can "I can, I am capable, I am worthy of something, my collabo-
only be retarded, but the precious force of movement can be ration is needed by the people with whom I live, my work is
completely transformed into a negative instrument, if a child important to others and I can transform the world around me
has learned to use it in the wrong way. with my work."
It would certainly be easier to help children if we remembered
how different are the ways in which adults and children use
movement in daily life. Achildof14-15 months is able to seta table
for ten people very well, but he will do it in a way that is very The Importance of Clothing in Movement
different from how an adult would do it. The motivation is
different: while an adult would tend to want to finish the job as The importance of clothing in the development of movement is
soon as possible, not finding any particular interest in the activity, certainly underestimated although it deserves our full attention.
a child finds it an opportunity to perfect his movements. This is In dressing children, it often seems as though the sole concerns
why he will bring objects one at a time- a single spoon, a single are protection against external temperatures and cleanliness.
fork, a single glass, etc. The whole pleasure of the work is in the Much attention is sometimes also paid to aesthetic qualities.
repetition of the movements with which each item is brought to However, few parents seem concerned about the child's free-
the correct spot on the table. The child goes back and forth dom of movement. Children's clothing is almost always an ob-
stronger character. It is the same with the development of the
character, which would seem to be a typically psychological
activity, although it remains rudimentary if the child is not
allowed to act in the environment. My experience has shown that, '---
if, for some peculiarities of the environment, the child cannot
make use of his hands, his character remains at a very low level,
he remains incapable of obedience or initiative, and becomes lazy ....J
and sad, while the child who has been able to work with his hands
shows a marked development and force of character." 6
There are still many children who are never given the chance .......
to collaborate in the environment. Rather, the !HOT~ they develop
the physical potential to act positively, the more they are
: '
restricted and rejected. They are continuously given the negative ; ,'

message not to move and not to touch anything. As a result they

arrive at the logical conclusion that their movement is not good,
since it is not accepted, and that everything they do is not good.
Indeed, they are often openly told that they are "bad" because they
Figure 31. A two and a half-year-old boy learning to sew. want to be active. Adults don't acknowledge children's willingness
to work, considering their help unnecessary and implying that
needing to ask for external help, developing the reassuring feeling they are ofno use to the life in their environment. They are refused
that "I can provide for my own needs". (See Figures 30 and 31). any form of participation and not accorded any social value.
4. The self-esteem: Participation in every day life develops a Some children are easily discouraged, and give up efforts to do
feeling ofworthiness in a person called upon to share it in an active things with us, they "play" instead of working. Others fight
way. Children become not only users of the world in which they strenuously for their freedom of movement and to collaborate,
live, but also producers. The basic experience of being able to although the repeated refusals and the obstacles placed it! their
change and transform the environment gives the person a feeling way produce a mistaken model for the way to ask for what you
of personal worth that remains foreVer. "I am worth something" is need. They learn that, if you want to achieve your aims, you have
added to the previous feeling that "I can do things", and then to fight against the environment instead of collaborating with it ..
becomes "I can do important things". This is where one finds the roots for many types of aggressive
behavior: the idea that activity is possible only by using very
5. Social participation: Practical work is work of social forceful movements - the kinetic formula for violence!
importance. Children help to maintain life in their environ- The word aggressiveness is derived from the Latin verb ad- '
ment and, therefore, can be useful to others. The presence of gredi, which means to "move towards", which is the movement '
children becomes important and necessary, and this awakens every living being needs to make to enter into a relationship with
the sense of responsibility towards the environment in which the environment. The whole difference between a gentle and
they live and act. The ego continues to develop and is rein- affectionate gesture and an aggressive one is above all in the
forced by the growing muscular abilities that are correctly
channeled and used for self-realization. I quantity of muscular effort used in the two situations. One can
"move towards" someone to kiss or hug them, or just to shake their
Maria Montessori, speaking of intelligence and hands, says I hand but with a stronger contact, one can also act violently.
".... through manual activity, the child reaches a higher level of I It is the same with objects: children want to "move towards"
intelligence; whoever has worked with his own hands has a them to lmow them and use them. If they have been taught that
- 129-

: ,'


4. The experience with the object conveys information about

itself to the brain.
5. The new data is elaborated (ifthere is no disturbance in the
~ child's activity) and becomes knowledge, which is retained in the
' mind and used whenever necessary.
In this way, the personal wealth of the human being grows.

" We shall now consider the relationship between movement

and personal knowledge. Such knowledge is part of the basic
information of the mind, the basic personal program. This
information includes:
1. Basic faith in oneself: Children who have freedom of move- Figure 30. A two and a half-year-old girl learning to cut correctly.
ment feel they can pursue their own ideas and interests. The
,...._ repeated experience of seeing an object, reaching for it and
exploring it with hands and mouth, produces the reassuring These fortunate human beings feel able to get anything they
sen~ation that when we want something we can move and go and
want and iftheir first attempts are unsuccessful, they keep trying.
get it. This is how a healthy ego develops, a human being capable Their self-confidence convinces them to repeat their efforts, be-
of dealing successfully with the problems of life. cause they have already tasted success. Other children, however,
Children should develop a basic faith in the external environ- who will later become adults, soon cease their attempts because
ment after the first two months oflife. They should acquire a basic their egos lack self-confidence.
faith in themselves by about the age of a year when they start to
Active movement in the first months oflife provides the overall
walk and have already spent much time in.experimenting with
mind-body experience from which self-confidence is derived, and
their abilities to move freely in the environment.
with this very valuable instrument, it is possible to face all the
It is interesting to note that being able to walk in a human way challenges of life. ·Every time a child is de:prived of his active
signifies being able to support oneself on two legs. The two types movement, the foundation of his developing ego is threatened,
of basic faith that we have described are, for us, the two psycho- with long-term effects of incalculable seriousness. Are we aware
.- logical legs upon which we must walk through life. If they are of the effort that is required to restrain young children in their
strong, one can survive any shock because the supports of the desire for free action? How exhausting it is to deviate their need
personality are solid. A human being with only one of these for movement by giving them harmful gratification like food, a
supports, or neither, finds his progress down the road of life pacifier or passive movement made in our arms or in constricting
difficult, slow, arid sometimes impossible; just as he would find containers? In specialized shops, one can easily find rockers for
walking, if he had to do it with only one leg, or even with none. infants, baby seats with elastic components to make them bounce,
2. Self-confidence: This is an internal feeling of being able to swinging seats, walkers and play pens. There is no shortage of
rely on one's own resources, which comes from the experience of equipment for passive movement!
active work done in the environment using free movement. It is Later, when the child is walking he will want to work with us
the sensation of personal power in solving problems, and this to participate in our every day life. If we accept his offer, we can
feeling of power remains in a person forever. In the future, the not only help in perfecting his coordination and use of his hands,
aims will change (from reaching an interesting object, such as a but also in the acquisition of other important information about
colored ball, to doing school homework, and so on) but the psycho- himself that is introduced into his mind.
logical situation remains the same; something interests you, you
3. The sense of independence and autonomy: Children become
need to do something to satisfy this interest, and you are confident
" -
ready to ·· a concert -.;o ::;ucu a ::svecw.1 a.uuJ.cau... l:'; .l.:.IV'-'1.J u .............. •• ....,
u1 Lul~ on tne Importance ot movement, we should
recall the marvelous way in which it is used in dance; the do this, the response is enthusiastic, with applause and cheers
movement of the body to the rhythm of song or music. Every- amply repaying the musicians for their efforts.
one loves to dance and this expression of human culture is
found in every civilization. Children also love to dance. Their
pleasure in moving thei.r bodies to a rhythm and with other
Movement and Knowledge '-'
people participating in the dancing is obvious. This requires a
heightened control of musculature, because one has to become
capable of beginning and ending each movement in time with One should never consider the development of coordinated
the music and even the youngest children will make every movement only from the point of view of correct myelinization
effort to participate along with others. and the production of functionally specialized pathways, but
. ·,
Today, science recognizes that infants are born with a also from the aspects of the important psychological implica- i

natural sense of rhythm based on prenatal life. Throughout tions associated with them. We have already stressed that ---'
the day, the embryo and then the fetus is cradled by move- everything that happens to human beings produces effects
ments within the mother and rocked by the amniotic fluid that are both physical and psychological. '
which surrounds it. There is the constant beating of the mother's The physical aspect of movement is represented by the growth ~
heart and that of the embryo which, particularly in the first of the sheathing matter around the nerve fibres, by the formation
months of pregnancy, moves the whole body of the embryo. of specialized nerve channels and by the reinforcement of the
Thus, children are stimulated by and encouraged to respond bones and muscles. For this purpose, good food, that contains the
to various rhythms even prior to birth. As Ashley Montagu required fats, is needed, as is sunlight which provides vitamin D-
writes, "The dance of life has already begun." 5 which, in turn, governs the utilization of the calcium and phospho-
In our Western culture, children rarely find occasions to rus present in the organism.
watch people dancing. When they do, they are very interested, In addition to this, we have to pay attention to the psychologi-
absorbing the movements, the "kinetic formula", and try to cal aspects of movement. This consists in the knowledge that
reproduce them as soon as possible. In our communities in- motor activity can give children much in relation to themselves
fants and children always respond-with great joy and enthusi- and the environment in which they live.
asm to dance music which can be used in difficult moments to
re-establish calm, and also to give a positive outlet for a The relationship between movement and knowledge can be
child's energy. Children can become aggressive when they easily understood if we consider what happens when the child
need to move their bodies but, for various reasons, cannot find moves purposefully:
an appropriate activity in the environment. 1. The child receives a stimulus (visual or auditory) from
It is equally important for children to realize that music is the environment.
always the result of body movements. Even if there are natural 2. An interest is awakened in the child, an urge to move
sounds, children need to understand that music is produced by towards the source of the stimulus.
human beings using various muscles of the mouth, hands and 3. Muscular work is done, a movement is made to reach the
arms. They should know how many different instruments there ,' !
source of the stimulus.
are and should have the opportunity to witness how musicians
control their gestures so as to obtain different musical sounds. It
is possible to give them this experience when willing persons are
. 125. ~

- 124-
floor, clearing the dishes, doing the dusting, etc. (See Figures
~ 27 and 28). These are chores belonging to "practical life", and
are precisely the tasks that adults like least. But, between the
age of one and four years, children love these jobs and are
delighted to be called upon to participate in them. ·
Maria Montessori explains why children in the first years of
life are so eager to do practical work and why they insist on this.
She speaks clearly about the different purposes that adults and
children want to achieve with these chores: "The work of the child
consists of creating the human being that it has to become. The
' adult works to improve his environment, while the child works to
improve himself." 4
The chores of practical life correspond exactly to what children
are looking for at this age: an activity that requires their muscular
energy, and that can lead to visible results that are useful to
themselves and the persons who live with them. Figure 29. A two-year-old child watering tTte plants.
These represent a unique opportunity to improve their motor
capacities while providing the reward and satisfaction of a con-
crete result: the child gets dressed, the food is prepared, the table
is set for the family or community meal. us because they understand very well our desire to give them
In order to attain such incredible results, a space must be guidance and opportunities for development.
provided for the child, not only physical space but one that, above 2. Young children are incapable of respecting their envi-

r all, represents the recognition and acceptance of his presence in ronment and so we have to protect our things from their
our lives. As soon as the child starts living with us, we have to destructive behavior.
organize our lives to fit in their needs. We have to prepare an Not true. And yet the more skilled they become in movement,

r appropriate environment for their development. Adults always

find it very difficult to accept the active movement of children
because of two serious misconceptions:
the more we limit their scope for action, tending to promote
activities that have no real purpose. Instead of permitting them to
use real objects in the environment, (See Figure 29.) which would
~ 1. Young cqildren are unable to control their movement, teach them how to use them, we provide toys that make it
and thus too much freedom in this regard exposes them to too impossible to have any real experience. Children very soon learn
much danger. that we do not want to share our work with them because we do
This is not true. When children are given freedom of move- not trust their goodwill, their ability or their desire to join in the
"· ment from the beginning oflife, they develop a great awareness. of family or community activity. The truth seems to be that we do not
the position of their bodies in space and become very careful in want their collaboration.
trying out new movements. They keep trying out their motor Both sides lose in this way! The children lose the opportu-
skills. In many years of experience, we have never seen such nity to develop their potentials and to a•chieve the necessary
children behave in a dangerous way. They are always ready to integration between mind and body, while the adults lose the
listen to an adult, to accept advice and obey instructions. They opportunity to have willing collaborators and the joy of seeing
have a relationship of mutual trust: we trust them and they trust these human beings growing a little every day thanks to our
•• .u ..... .l.u::;vc::.l ll.1uo .uttuuu£ ~~ uu" granLeu, Lne expenence IS one ot 1{
physical restriction, which becomes an experience of psychologi-
cal incapacity of achieving one's desires and furthering one's own 1
interests. The surrounding world becomes a prison rather than lI ;_,;
the site of our development.
Little, easy-to-use objects are placed in the space reserved
for the child. The difficulties to overcome should not be too ~
great, so that positive results can be obtained, and the child
can feel that it is possible to succeed within his environment
of action. Even if we give him a colored ball, we should see ,_.
that it is small enough so that the child can grab it with his
hands and hold it comfortably. Whatever is given to the child
in the first year of life should be selected with care. The
development of movement should always be accompanied by "-'
the feeling that ''It is possible", and that "I can do it".
In fact, movement designed to construct a strong ego is not
just any kind of movement. If children move backward or ""'"'
forward freely in space, but without achieving any positive
results, the activity will not provide an overall feeling that "I
can do it by myself," because they are not doing anything ._J

' 1
Very often parents and adults understand that children
need to have space to move around in. This knowledge is not
enough. There must be concrete activities to perform, because
if we wish to promote the integration of the human being, the
motor skills should always be used in the service of the mind.
When this happens, the activity becomes self-satisfying. The
pleasure resides in the activity itself and in the result that can
be obtained from it, in the joy of moving the body in space in
resp~mse to interior desires and in having success in what you :._.,
do. There is no need for prizes or approval to keep the child
working at his activity.
As soon as children are able to walk, a period begins
I -------·-··-
' '·

during which the hands, which are now liberated from the
task of helping the body to move, need to be given work. In
this way their movement can lead to positive results in the
development of the personality. Now the children must be-
come our best collaborators.
The achievement of equilibrium in an erect position allows Figures 27 and 28. ~~
children to do things with us - all the activities connected Through practical life activities the child and the adult can work together.
with looking after yourself and your surroundings, such as
getting dressed, preparing food, setting the table, wiping the
-121- ~
~ 120-


infants have the inner sensitivity to understand that personal

development is possible only through the acquisition of hu-
man characteristics. In this developmental process, we can
see the fife force at work, pushing infants towards self-realiza-
tion, which cannot be achieved without the aid of an environ-
ment that favors development. ·
The stimulation that comes from the presence of human
beings and the intemal drive for development, which is always
present in living beings, particularly when they are very young,
needs freedom in a space. This space promotes the marvelous
; processes of myelinization, observation and imitation which lead
to the acquisition of the skills of voluntary movement. The first
two components, myelinization and observation, are always at
work in infants. All too often, however, imitation cannot be Figure 25. A mirror helps the child to see how they moue.
attempted. The strong desire for movement cannot be satisfied
owing to a lack of sufficient space in which to act.
With the ability to make each new movement, the connections
between the nerve cells concerned increase and increasingly
specialized nerve channels develop. Children who live in circuses,
I~ (or in other environments where they can observe adults moving
I in specialized ways, such as very young girls in Seville and in
Egypt who can do the flamenco or belly-dance), amaze us by their
motor abilities, compared with those of other "normal" children.
But this is merely the result of observing persons performing such
movements, and observing them from birth. What appears excep-
tional to us is merely normal to them, because it formed part of
their environment. The infants absorbed what they saw, then
tried to reproduce it as soon as possible, and had their efforts Figure 26. Furniture found in the home can provide opportunity for movement.
encouraged and approved by the people around them.

It is so irdportant for children to live with adults in order to

'- have the opportunity to see their movement and listen to their
speech. We can offer them this wealth of space while at the same reserved for them, which helps children to see how they perform
~ time safeguarding our person and possessions. Children do not a movement. (See Figure 25). Around the seventh month, a bar
need to have the whole house at their disposal, but only a comer can be fixed to the wall, or a heavy stool can be provided which the
of free space in the living room or kitchen. child can hold onto in raising himself to his feet. But even ordinary
house furniture, such as a sofa or annchair, can serve this
~ The best way to help children in developing free movement in
the first twelve months is to provide the large, low bed we have purpose. (See Figure 26).
already described, to leave them on the ground for as long as There is really no need to buy objects but only a need to
possible, and to avoid putting them into any container that might understand the value of free movement and how important it is for
: limit their movement. There should be a mirrnr in t.lw enrnor
.-.:t...;l;t ............ ..,.1.,.,...-.u,., -I-n f' n~ .... ~ .... hnrl~c.o f-rao. tn rYlfYHt:l anr1 urorlr in .c.~n~f"'P
"'' v~ LU~ num a smau amoum; or space, and you Wlll see that he can
spend all his time without disturbing anyone. They like nothing
better than to satisfy the desire for free movement which is the ·
strongest internal drive during this period.
In performing the work required for the development of
coordinated movement, the infant's relationship with his mother
changes. Children learn to be with people in a different way; -·
sharing the same environment, watching other people, listening
to the talking or singing of adults. Their mode of communication
is no longer primarily contact through the skin and sense of touch.
For this reason the ability to move actively is a great help toward
the development of a positive and natural "detachment". ' -.
There is a time suited to every kind of relationship. At birth,
the infant gains a wider living space and the few weeks of
symbiotic life serve as a transition between the two situations.
After this period, interest in the external world and the joy of .._;
Figure 24. The joy that comes from performing independent activity.
active movement enables the child to reach objects in the outside
world. This offers him the gratifying opportunity to learn how
human beings can be in the company of the ones they love, .._;
working together instead of being held in their arms. they observe the child growing rapidly and progressing along the
Naturally, feeding times and the moments of maternal care road of independence. If there is space provided children atten-
remain periods of intimate relationship, but these alternate with tively observe the people moving around it and this gives them a
other times during which there is freedom of movement. This model for their own movement.
gives us the model for relationships between healthy and happy The kinetic formula which is the program for executing the
people. Great joy in intimacy and a great joy in the freedom of movements, is absorbed visually. It is important to realize
personal work. Even being constantly held in the arms of a beloved ~

person transforms the relationship·"into a prison in which both l that children must first gain an awareness of the movements
before they can begin to reproduce them. When the formula is r -,
partners lose the opportunity to continue to grow in a way that \ clear, the child will continue his efforts to perfect the move-
enriches each new encounter with each other. We need attach- ment and, if the environment permits it, will continue until he
ment and detachment at the right moments and this type of \ succeeds. And this success, when the body responds to the
relationship should begin at birth, recognizing that the newborn idea the child had in his mind, is a very great joy for the child.
!'h needs a space for movement which will soon become a space for (See Figure 24). From this moment on the new movement
personal physica.l and psychological development. Limiting this becomes part of the child's personal repertoire of motor abili-
space implies limiting growth on both of these planes. ties and will be repeated and perfected with use.

The decision to offer the child space for movement has impor- Each movement, therefore, is first learned by means of
tant implications for both parents and child because it implies the visual observation and then reproduced. Infants tend to imi-
decision to have a family life oriented increasingly toward the tate everything that the adults do around them. This !"Ct of ;
collaboration of people living together. After the first couple of imitation is not a passive repetition of behavior but an effort ._j
months of adjustment to the presence of the child, the parents, that is made out of a desire to become like them. It seems that
particularly the mother, can regain some of their freedom while
- 117. .._;
- 116-

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Figure 22. At seven months a child is able to sit. Figure 23. At twelve months the child can walk.

How different is the situation of someone who is able to do what of the back, etc. From these new movements we can observe the
he wants by himself and that of someone who constantly has to ask progress of myelinization down through the loody.
for help from other people!
At eight months, the child has perfected the technique of
Maria Montessori taught us that the child's cry means: crawling and at nine months he can stand and pull himself erect
"Help me to do it myselfl" and a low bed can help him to do with the help of some nearby support.
important things by himself very soon. Such a simple means Around eleven to twelve months of age, the child begins to
to such impor~ant ends! walk. (See Figure 23). This is a remarkable development, when we
Once agairl we have to recognize our profound lack of consider that the newly born infant did not even have the ability
comprehension for the capacities of the infant. From this to support his head, while now he has achieved the complex
stems our lack of faith in them, which impedes their develop- balance needed to support himself upright on two legs. However,

ment. We justify our erroneous behavior as being necessary to a tragic aspect of the development of movement is that, generally,
care for and protect them. the more children are able to do, the more they are restricted in
their freedom of activity. They go from crib to infant-seat, baby
"""" At six to seven months of age, the child is able to coordinate the carriage, high-chair and play pen. As Adele Costa Gnocchi once
muscles ofthe torso and is able to sit. (See Figure 22). Between the told me, "The child is surrounded by an organ!ized effort to restrain
' sixth and eighth months the child gradually goes from slithering his development!"
to crawling, and all the stages in between; using his hands to raise The months pass, but the child is never given the chance to
" the top of the body, bending his knees and ankles to raise the base move freely and to practice actions to improve his coordination.

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Figure 21. The child is free to explore by himself.
learning and behavior. Unfortunately, "social taboos and pres- ..J
sure to conform have produced a society that discourages left-
handedness, forcing children to become right-handed." 3
When we offer something to a young child, such as a toy or a
piece of bread, we have to allow the child to take the object with -
whichever hand he wants. All too often, even if unconsciously,
when the left hand is used we tend to wave the object over to the
right, releasing it only when the unspoken message that "If you
want something, use the other hand" is understood.
At the age of five months, children are still considered -very
small, even though they are already able to dominate their
Figures 19 and 20. With Cr. large enough space {or'{ree movement, a child of five months
can slither to reach what he wants and experience through his senses. surrounding space, slithering skillfully. This form of movement
allows children to discover the pleasure and joy that comes when
they are able to satisfy their curiosity in everything that makes up
their environment. But how many children of this age find
with the help of this important part of the periphery of our themselves in such favorable conditions for development?
body. (See Figures 19 and 20). Around five to six months of age, precisely because his motor
When the child begins to use his hands we should never abilities have improved so much, the child may decide to get out
discourage the use of the left hand. For centuries, left-handedness of the bed. He does this backwards, extending first his legs and
was considered as being an unacceptable and erroneous form of then the rest of the body. This is another important step in . '
development which brings with it the ability to go and look for the '-'
behavior, and great. efforts were made to correct it.
mother whenever the child wakes up, remembers her, and wants
From recent research on different functions of the cerebral to see her. At this point, the child no longer needs to cry in order
hemispheres, we have learned that 10% of the population is
genetically left-handed. This variant of brain organization should
to attract her attention. He knows what be wants (the mental J'
idea) and is capable of obtaining it without asking but by using his
be respected in order to avoid possible difficulties in language, ability to move and the new capacities ofhis body. (See Figure 21) .
. 112.
·113. --'
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Whenever such a bed is suggested to future parents pre-
paring for birth, the typical objection is that the child is likely
to fall from the bed. However, after many decades of direct
! experience, we can confidently report that this never happens
) ! and cannot happen if the bed is used from the very beginning.
This is because the infant's movements are very slow. He will
' never reach the edge ofthe bed with his whole body because as
I~ '
soon as he finds that a small part of his body is not being
supported, he retreats to the center of thE' bed.
You never see a baby lizard fall off a tree; they only stretch
their bodies off a branch as far as they can feel sure of their
stability and then retreat to safety. Surely the human newborn is
at least as aware as a lizard of messages a bout the safety of its
body in space.
Information about empty space that is received through the
skin is transmitted to higher brain centers, analyzed and under-
stood, with the results of producing an immediate defense reac-
.- Figure 18. A bed that provides the child with an opportunity to move and observe. tion in the infant, who adjusts his position until he reaches one in
which his whole body is again fully supported.
In the second month of life, the muscles of the neck are
" The process of myelinization of the nerve fibres is very brought under control, and the head can he supported without
quick and begins with the eye muscles. The child learns to assistance. If the child, who is already capable of directing his
control them in ohe month allowing him to follow what is gaze, is also allowed the freedom of observation, this new
" happening in the environment much better. This is already an achievement will produce a notable change in his personal
important step, since it implies a freedom to observe. Adults relationship with the environment. Controlling the head is
should recognize this progress and give the child the opportu- the beginning of his mastering of the environment.
nity to make j!Se of his new ability.
' If a child is placed in a barred crib (or other forms of cribs that
Between the third and fourth month, depending on the
child's general state of health, and especially on the experi-
are even more restrictive), there is not much point in having the ences that he has been able to have, coordination begins to
capacity for observation, since it cannot be used or improved. A extend to the hands. The child starts to use them intentionally
bed which has enough space to allow for movement and no reaching for objects, grasping them and bringing them closer.
obstruction for vision, is the first thing to provide in order to assist This is a big step. Now the capacity to slither can develop and
r in the development of voluntary movement. The bed can even if a space is provided for free movement, the child can eventu-
consist only of a mattress of standard size, which is placed on the ally reach every object that arouses his interest and gets to
floor, or on a wooden base with rounded edges and with four small know them through the sense of sight, touch a~d taste. In fact,
~ wheels. (See Figure 18). in the first months of life, everything has to be experienced
vv uen we reacn tne numan bemg and the third part of the Anyone who has ever looked after an infant has certainly
brain develops completely, the equilibrium of the erect posture is noticed that even a premature baby can be found with his
so perfect that rapid movement through space is possible in this head against the edge of the crib. How could he get there,
position. This frees the upper limbs from the function of balancing other than by moving, slowly but surely, slithering on the ~

the body. They are able to specialize in moving the hands, which support of the mattress? And, even though we frequently have
become, along with the mouth, the most human parts of the body, to move them back to the center of the bed, why don't we
and the most privileged in terms of the quantity of nerve cells and understand that they have some motor abilities, even though
nerve fibres available for controlling movement. Here it is espe-
these are different from those that develop later? This is
cially interesting to note just how large the supply of nerves is in
another manifestation of prejudice. This mistaken idea that
proportion to the volume of the body, since the greater part ofthe I
cortical area that controls voluntary movement is devoted to the we have of newborns prevents us from seeing the reality of
what is clearly happening before our very eye.$. ..J
mouth and hands. If we were to show the body in these propor-
tions, we would be amazed to see their importance in our lives. We
are monsters with an enormous mouth and two gigantic hands,
whiletherestofusisa tiny body, which is clearly designed to serve
I In the many years of experience with neonat~s and infants in
the first months of life, we have always observed that they stop
crying as soon as they are freed from their clothing and placed in

these parts making it possible for us to become humans. a situation that gives them freedom of movement and the possibil-
Coming back to the newborn, it is clear that the human being ity of observing their surrounding environment. The pleasure of
insofar as his capacity for movement at birth is at the level of a
primitive reptile, and even slightly below that level, since he
cannot control the movement of the head and can only move very
slowly. Even though he is capable of making only a few move-
I moving the body can be so great that they even forget about food
for some time. When they move through space, attempting to
slither, infants are very attentive and concentrated in their
activity, and "it is easy to see the close relationship between the

ments, this capacity should be recognized and assisted from the

very beginning. Unfortunately, the infant is generally placed in a
small crib, wrapped in a blanket and dressed in such a way as to
I mind and body working together. These infants are learning
many things about themselves and the world around them.

inhibit any voluntary movement. Not observing any expression of

movement, we tend to think that infants are incapable of it, and -,
reduce even further any active expression of this basic aspect of An Environment for Movement
development. '"""'
This is one ofthe most serious educational errors, which comes Infants can slither from birth. If newborn infants are left on a
from the mistaken impression that, since they are infants and spacious enough surface, they make very slow movements with their ~

cannot move like adults, they cannot move at all. whole body. This active movement takes place in a clockwise
In recent decades, research has shown that infants have direction and can be observed when there is enough space left '1

extraordinary abilities of every kind and so this fact should not around the infant. A single mattress of normal size will suffice, or
surprise us, especially when we remember the richness ofprena- a blauket on the ground. We have seen three-week-old infants
tallife. Still, official science has not yet recognized these discov- capable of rotating completely from one side to the other, since every
eries, and infants in maternity clinics and hospitals continue to be advance is always a combination of an internal development (the
placed in small containers, and dressed in clothing that makes myelin sheath) and external experience (the possibility of making
any manifestation of their motor abilities impossible. and repeating a movement) permitted by the envrronment.
In practice it is difficult to observe the movement of newborns To assist in voluntary movement from birth, it is sufficient to
and young children because their movements are very slow and provide a bed larger than the crib commonly used, and some '""'
need a certain amount of space to be performed. interesting objects, that serve as a stimulus for movement.
- 108- ..J

- 109-
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the necessity for the child to emerge (after only nine months of can have serious psychological consequences that may compro-
pregnancy) because of the large volume of the head, and the mise the harmonious development of the personality.
minimum equipment needed for survival in the external world.
This is why the newborn arrives with the minimum capacity for
voluntary movements.
Different Stages of Movement
In Chapter Two we discussed external pregnancy, during
: which the child continues to develop. It is interesting to note
During the development of movement, we can see that the
that the time needed for the child to attain motor abilities is
similar to newborn primates, exactly 8-9 months. Newborn human being passes through three different stages, each bringing
primates grab the mother's skin with their hands and remain different possibilities for movement. These phases are identical to
attached in this position for several weeks while the mother those manifested among various living beings during evolution:
moves around freely in the environment. Our newborns are not slithering, crawling, walking. ·

' capable of this for the simple reason that, even though all the Movement through space with the whole body against the
nerve cells are in place, the network of fibers linking them to the ground (or other supporting surfaces) is typical of reptiles. Even
mu&cles have not yet been covered by a special substance called when reptiles have legs, they have very short ones that are not
r-- myelin. This fatty coating is responsible for the transmission of able to support the whole body, and that are only used to propel the
electrical impulses that go from the nerve cells to the muscles animal forward. This type of movement corresponds to the first
without being diffused, just as electric cables need to be covered type of brain as described in Chapter 1.
in insulating material in order to work. Movement through space with the body and head raised is
~ I
The physiological condition of human newborns results from typical of mammals that walk on four legs. This permits them
the lack of a myelin sheath around nerve fibres. This explains why to be very quick in their movements and to control a much
r they cannot even raise their heads, but need to be supported from larger space. This is a form of movement related to the second
· behind when being lifted. Even though the movement of the eyes type of brain.
is not controlled initially, this is soon achieved in a favorable Somewhere between four-legged movement and the erect
environment. The coating ofthe nerve fibres is completed within posture of humans comes the form of movement used by superior
a period of about one year. It starts from the upper part ofthe body
mammals, the primates, which are capable of raising themselves
and moves downwards. on their posterior limbs (but only for short periods of time). In this
r-- Progress in ;the acquisition of voluntary movement .is very position use their forelimbs to gather food and bring it to their
quick, and in orily twelve months the child goes from an almost mouths and for a series of personal and social activities. This is
total lack of coordination to the most difficult form of coordination; possible because the upper limbs are sufficiently differentiated to
walking on two legs. Only human beings have accomplished this constitute hands. These primates give special maternal care to
' skill, which requires a very sophisticated system of balance. The their young. However, when you look closely at the forelimbs, you
child achieves this in a very short time. When we observe the can see that their hands are different from those of human beings,
newborn's helplessness, we should at the same time remember especially in the relationship between their fingers, particularly
that, with the passing of every day, the child is improving his between the first two fingers. It is specifically the opposition
l_- motor skills, despite the many difficulties of the environment. between the thumb and index finger that has made it possible to
Even though it is true that, sooner or later, all children learn execute the extremely refined movements that have produced the
to coordinate their movements, it should be understood that any whole ofhuman culture- from architecture to writing, from music
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